Monday, 18 August 2014

Job versus Career

It's been two months today since my viva, so I thought I'd check back in. People have been asking whether I've found work yet. A woman at church asked if I was "going to work or stay in academia?" (I didn't realise the two were mutually I've been trying to work in academia!)

I get embarrassed when I have to explain that no, I haven't. I'm currently waiting to hear the outcomes of a few applications, and still checking jobs sites and e-mails for more opportunities. It's embarrassing and shameful for me to not be working, but at the end of the day, building a career in academia is a marathon, not a sprint. I'm taking a long-range view of things.

Technically speaking, I could find a job--I could be out there every day handing my CV out in shops and pubs, filling out online applications and talking to contacts in the area. I could find something--but I'm not looking for just a job. I'm taking this 2 month break to work on my career, taking advantage of this time to write and read again, and draft new project proposals.

Some days are better than others. Today's been pretty bright and productive--I found another post-doc and applied for it, and I'm planning a library day tomorrow. Other days have been pretty low--meeting new people is embarrassing, as I wonder how long I can keep saying "I recently finished my PhD and I'm applying for post-docs". What's the expiration date on the term 'recently'? Would 3 months be too long, or 6 months, or a year?

I've seen brilliant colleagues finish their PhDs and find jobs, but not careers. They teach full-time on temporary contracts, but they jump from one job to the next and have no time to work on publications or to come up with new projects. I'm trying not to make that mistake, but it's hard to be unemployed. Even if I know it's better in the long run, I still feel bad about it. I have the luxury of not being the breadwinner, but having a roof over my head and food to eat adds another layer of shame and guilt to the whole post-doc unemployment thing.

When I was staying at my mom's between the MA and PhD, I didn't get a summer job. My mom was fine with that--she enjoyed having me home for the 4 months, and I cooked and organised the garage, and mowed the lawn, etc. I got a lot of reading done and spent a lot of quality time with my mom and local friends. It was a nice summer, but it'll always have a shadow over it for me. My sister, who lived across the country at the time, wasn't fine with it, and said, "Well, I hope you're not planning on living with mom after the PhD." It still hurts. Mainly, because it's true--here I am, after the PhD, and although I'm not dependent upon my mom, I'm dependent upon my husband. I wanted to prove her wrong. All of these years, I've been working hard and hoping to show her that she was wrong.

At the end of the day, I genuinely love working in academia and I know this is what I'm meant to do with my life. Patience is key. I'll keep using 'recently' for as long as it takes...

Friday, 1 August 2014

Class of 2004

My ten-year high school reunion is coming up in 2 weeks.

In the States, the high school reunion is a big cultural thing. My grandma always went to hers, including her 60th. Before Facebook, the reunion was the only time you'd ever catch up with old classmates (apart from any close friends). My year was the first to have Facebook upon graduating (the site started in 2004), so we're an interesting new phenomenon. What does a reunion look like when you've actually already been in touch with everyone you like, and already chosen to not maintain contact with those you don't like? Does it increase or decrease awkwardness when you meet again in real life? My guess would be increase--there's an unspoken reason you're not connected on social media. For those who are connected, it might be creepy to realise how much you actually know about each other. Facebook has allowed me to see so much of the last 10 years--the college partying days, gap year travelling, birthdays, relationship status changes, career moves, family deaths and births, ultrasound pics, pets, weddings, baby showers, etc.. There are people who I haven't seen since high school, but I've seen all of these life moments. It's way too much information, really.

My high school classmates have put together a Facebook group for the reunion information, so I've been able to click through the members' profiles. I've been reminded why I'm not in touch with most of these people...Lots of anti-Obama, pro-gun sentiment, and there seems to be a relationship between educational attainment level and proximity to our rural hometown...Some folks never left the farm.

Quick things I've learned about my class, ten years later

1) I'm not the first person to get a PhD.
Last spring, I was absolutely gutted to read in my hometown newspaper (online) that Carly Dorsey (now Carly Roberts) finished her PhD before me.  
Carly is on the front row, far left (and two people in this photo are now pregnant...)

She's got a job at Purdue University, too, which is one that I considered for undergrad and I quite like West Lafayette, Indiana. I'm happy for her, but it was surprising. She was always very intelligent and driven, but I had the impression that her ambition suited a career in business or law, not academia. In my case, there was never any doubt that I'd go for a PhD--I wore tweed, took every AP class I could (I even did an independent study AP Spanish Literature that wasn't technically offered), and aimed for the Ivy League. Yet somebody else beat me to it--that stings!

2) Everybody's pregnant.
 Ok, more like 10 or 12 in a class of 300. But seriously, it feels like everybody. It's that time of life. The average age to get married in the U.S. is 27 for women and 29 for men, and most couples have a kid within the first 3 years of marriage. Also, 58% of first births are to unwed mothers, and women without college degrees are more likely to have a kid before marriage, so there's that to factor in, too. At any rate, there were at least five or six "declines" on the event page from women who were due this summer/fall and couldn't fly after 7 months. In terms of the most kids in 10 years, there are two women from my class with 4 kids each (no multiples, either!).

3) For the most part, people look the same...
Most people really do still look like themselves. Some have changed their hairstyle, gained or lost weight, swapped glasses for contacts, grown facial hair, etc. but generally, you'd still recognise them if you saw them walking down the street...

4) There are few surprises.
Apart from Carly Dorsey, nobody else has really surprised me. The cute couple who were voted "most adorable couple"--they're happily married with two kids. The Future Business Leaders of America president is a banker. The sweet, kind girl from church youth group is a Kindergarten teacher, married, with a baby on the way. The racist, sexist jock is still single and looks drunk in his profile picture.

5) Political views seem to emerge at some point between 18-28 years.
Amongst my classmates, I can remember very few people who actually said they were Democrats or Republicans. Most people threw around labels without really understanding them (like the "Anarchy! Anarchy! I don't know what it means, but I love it!" line from Talladega Nights). Ten years and three elections later, people are much more outspoken about their views. Now that they pay taxes, they care about tax policies. Now that they need a job, they care about unemployment. Now that they have kids, they care about education. What's been interesting for me, though, has been the high number of people with anti-Obama sentiments all over their FB walls. I knew that not everybody was pro-Obama like I am, but I was surprised to see the extent to which people post and re-post this stuff. When W. was president, I disliked him and his politics but I never let him take up that much of my time. I read lefty news sources and studied international relations, and turned my energy towards repairing the damage to America's image, rather than just complaining about it. I've seen a lot of racist crap, especially, which reminds me why I was never friends with these particular people in the first place.

If I could afford an extra transatlantic trip this month, I'd love to be there...Maybe I'll make it to the 20th in 2024 :)